Sandra Fluke draws attention to financial & health burdens women suffer without contraceptive coverage


A week after House Republicans banned her from testifying at a hearing where an all-male panel spoke on women’s reproductive health, Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke described the significant financial and health hardships imposed on women when they’re denied contraceptive coverage by religiously-affiliated universities, hospitals, and institutions where they study or work. 

“Denial of contraceptive coverage impact real people. In the worst cases, women who need these medications for other medical conditions suffer very dire consequences,” Fluke testified yesterday before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. “They’re not burdens that male students must shoulder.”

The all-male panel testifying on women’s reproductive health before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 16, 2012. SOURCE:

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called the hearing after Fluke was prevented from speaking at last Thursday’s House Oversight Committee hearing on contraception coverage.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) blocked Fluke’s testimony, saying she was only “a college student” and not “appropriate or qualified” to speak on women’s reproductive health. Instead, Issa allowed a panel of five male religious leaders to testify at the hearing, and his decision angered Democratic lawmakers and women’s rights groups.

“When I took my seat at the hearing last week and I looked out at the panel, I couldn’t help but ask, ‘What is wrong with this picture?’ There was not one single woman on that first panel. Not one. Even though we were there to talk about the needs of tens of millions of American women to have access to insurance for preventive health care, including reproductive rights, including contraception,” said Maloney, who serves on the House Oversight Committee.

Financial burden 

In her testimony, Fluke pointed out that women studying at Georgetown University, a Jesuit school, don’t have contraceptive coverage through the school’s student health insurance plan. The student plan is paid for by students and is not subsidized by the university.

Without insurance coverage, many female students are forced to pay out-of-pocket for birth control pills, which could range from $60 to more than $100 each month. That could add up to more than $3,000 in additional expenses for a woman attending law school.

“40% of the female students at Georgetown Law reported…that they struggle financially as a result of this policy,” said Fluke, who was past-president of the Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice. “A married female student told me that she had to stop using contraception she and her husband just couldn’t fit it into their budget anymore. Women employed in low-wage jobs without contraceptive coverage face the same choice.”

Health hardships 

Faced with rising tuitions, school fees, student loan debts, and a weak job market, many female students simply can’t afford the out-of-pocket fees and are forced to forgo the medications they need for family planning and to treat medical conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis.

Fluke recounted the story of a fellow student who could no longer afford birth control pills that she was prescribed to prevent large cysts – or lumps – from forming in her ovaries. Although this woman was diagnosed with PCOS by her doctor, Fluke said Georgetown’s health plan repeatedly denied her claims for a medical exception and refused to cover her contraceptive medications.

“After months of paying over $100 out-of pocket, she just couldn’t afford her medication anymore, and she had to stop taking it,” Fluke said. “Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary. She had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary as a result.”

Since the surgery, the woman, now 32-years-old, has been experiencing symptoms of early menopause, which puts her at a higher risk for cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

“Some may say that my friend’s tragic story is rare. It’s not. I wish it were,” said Fluke.

Fluke pointed out that more than 65% of female students reported being interrogated by school or insurance administrators when they requested coverage for contraception to treat medical conditions. In fact, 1 out of 5 students who sought medical exception were denied coverage despite verifications from doctors, according to Fluke.

“When you let university administrators or other employers rather than women and their doctors dictate whose medical needs are legitimate and whose are not, women’s health takes a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body,” said Fluke. “Because this is the message that not requiring coverage of contraception sends: A woman’s reproductive health care isn’t a necessity, isn’t a priority.”


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